Margaret Heffernan on two types of optimism

In her Introduction to Uncharted: How to Navigate the Future, Margaret Heffernan points out that optimists aren’t idiots. “They do better in life — live longer, healthier, more successful lives — for the simple reason that they don’t ignore problems or give up easily. Psychologists distinguish between two kinds of optimists. Explainers accept that bad news is neither permanent (things can improve) nor universal (good news is happening somewhere else). Expectant optimists, by contrast, see problems but anticipate improvement. Unconstrained by reality, they have a fighting spirit. Both kinds of optimism alert individuals to fresh opportunities and to the resources needed to pursue [and achieve] goals. Where pessimists may avoid problems. optimists cope and solve. They are specially productive because optimists are more likely to reach out for help, to collaborate and trust others. That gives them more capacity and resilience than they could possess alone.” (Pages xvii-xviii)

It is characteristic of the thrust and flavor of Heffernan’s resilient and relentless mind that she includes in each of her books dozens of mini-commentaries such as the one you have just read. They are directly or indirectly relevant to key insights. She thinks in terms of context, frame of reference. Explanatory optimism and expectant optimism are only two of several dozen business topics of special interest to her. I love to tag along with her as she explores and examines whatever catches her eye, whatever puts white caps on her gray matter…and on mine.

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Margaret Heffernan is an entrepreneur, CEO, writer and keynote speaker. She is currently a Professor of Practice at the University of Bath School of Management in the UK. She is the former chief executive officer of five businesses and is the writer of several books that explore business and effective leadership.

Uncharted was published by Avid Reader Press (September 2020). Heffernan’s other books include Women on Top (2018), Beyond Measure (2015), A Bigger Prize, 2014), Willful Blindness (2011), and The Naked Truth (2004).

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